Kong: Skull Island

March 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“The Kings of Summer”)
Written by: Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”) and Max Borenstein (“Godzilla”) and Derek Connolly (“Jurassic World”)

What if “Apocalypse Now” was remade today, but with a twist:  instead of the Viet Cong, you replace them with King Kong? While the movie isn’t shameless enough to title itself “Viet Kong,” instead “Kong: Skull Island” foregoes subtlety—and, damningly, simplicity—to sort of retell Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece with a giant ape and connective tissue to other giant monsters in the pipeline ready to star in their own film franchises. In short, “Kong: Skull Island” is a weird fucking movie, albeit one that squanders that weirdness by bogging it down in a swamp of exposition, an overabundance of characters, and weird shifts in tone.

After a prologue shows us a pair of pilots, one American and one Japanese, crash landing on an island in the South Pacific during World War II and encountering our title character, we’re thrown ahead nearly 30 years to the waning days of the Vietnam War. Satellite photography and mapping is all the rage, and would-be explorer Bill Randa (John Goodman) uses the threat of Russian discovery to convince a senator to finance an exploratory mission with a military escort to Skull Island, which is permanently surrounded by storms.

The military enlists Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a career soldier looking for a fight after having to “cut and run” in Vietnam, and his men to facilitate the expedition. Along for the ride is former British special forces tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), the latter of which provides the story with its inevitable “Beauty and the Beast” allegory. As soon as the team arrives and sets off bombs for, uh, some reason, they’re met with a fury by Kong himself, swatting helicopters out of the air and leaving Packard with a thirst for revenge.

Cool monster fisticuffs aside, “Kong: Skull Island” ends up a mess as we’re expected to follow too many different poorly-drawn characters (big ape included) as they make their way across the unclear geography of Skull Island, during which moments of would-be or unintentional comic relief mar what comes down to a movie about a crazed Samuel L. Jackson taking on King Kong. I mean, that sounds badass, right? But then what the hell is with Tom Hiddleston tossing on a gas mask and grabbing a katana to knife through a flock of pterodactyls in a poisonous gas cloud in slow motion? Is THAT supposed to be badass? Because it’s just sort of laughable. And the glut of characters leaves fine actors, like Goodman, Brie Larson, Shea Whigham, and Toby Kebbell, either stranded with nothing to do or with so little motivation the whole thing feels like a byproduct of bad editing.

The Kings of Summer

June 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts (debut)
Written by: Chris Galletta (debut)

Back in 2010, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts brought a short film called “Successful Alcoholics” to the Sundance Film Festival. Reuniting “Cloverfield” co-stars Lizzy Caplan and TJ Miller, the darkly hilarious short about a couple who are successful in their lives and jobs despite being perpetually drunk, gained a lot of buzz and excited people for the future of a new up-and-coming filmmaker. In his feature length debut, Vogt-Roberts impresses once again as a new directorial voice in “The Kings of Summer.”

In the film, teenager Joe (Nick Robinson) sets out into the woods to build a real house so that he can get away from his father (Nick Offerman). Joining him are his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and Biaggio (Moises Arias), a strange kid who always seems to be lingering around. As they forage for food, explore, and build a house, the trio learn to live independently from their overbearing parents, and set out on a quest to grow from boys to men.

In his first feature length film, Robinson is quite good as a rebellious teen. Basso, who is a little more experienced, also brings a lot to the table as his friend Patrick. The last young actor of the trio, Disney Channel veteran Arias, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. In his finest moments, his bizarre character Biaggo is hilariously weird. Then there are times where he is strange simply for the sake of being strange. A lot of Biaggio’s humor is rooted in facial expressions and while it doesn’t completely wear out its welcome, it does get tiresome. The MVP of the cast, without question is Offerman. Deviating only slightly from the monotonous and dry wit of his “Parks and Recreation” character Ron Swanson, Offerman runs away with every scene he appears in and delivers the funniest lines of the film with complete perfection.

“The Kings of Summer” will likely draw comparisons to indie filmmaker Wes Anderson’s work, which is accurate for the most part. The quirky sensibilities of Anderson are there, but Vogt-Roberts does a really good job of reigning it all in and allows the film’s quirkier moments be a part of its charm, rather than use those scenes as a crutch. A lot of credit should be given to former “Late Night with David Letterman” writer Chris Galletta. The screenplay features strong albeit weird jokes and storytelling beats that appropriately capture the essence of teens trying to get away from a suffocating and annoying home life.  Much of the humor in the indie is found in subtleties. Galletta’s one liners and non-sequitors hit at a pretty good clip and laughs can be found even in the terrible patchy stubble of the fresh-faced leads.

It’s oddness might detract some viewers, but it’s hard to imagine young audiences not enjoying the hell out of “The Kings of Summer.” It’s an above-average coming-of-age story with a narrative about love, strained friendships, and the fight for independence. Above all else, Vogt-Roberts brings his unique voice to the indie film industry. He definitely has a bright career ahead of him.